At first we were worried we weren’t going to have any Game 7s in the 2020 NHL playoffs.
Now — thanks to three teams climbing out of the dreaded 3-1 hole — we’re going to have three in a 28-hour span. And that includes two today! In the same rink! What could possibly go wrong?
Let’s get you caught up on a wild Thursday night, and look ahead to what promises to be a special Friday night.
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All times Eastern
The Avalanche have won two straight games to tie this up. Nobody is tearing up these playoffs quite like Nathan MacKinnon, who has scored in each of his team’s 14 games, racking up nine goals and 25 points. Perhaps the only player coming close to MacKinnon is Dallas defenseman Miro Heiskanen (19 points, skating 25:28 per game on average). This one might come down to the goalies: Anton Khudobin is back in net after Ben Bishop’s brief (but costly) return. Meanwhile, the Avs are likely sticking with their third-stringer, journeyman Michael Hutchinson — because he’s been awesome (.938 save percentage) and also because it’s September, 2020, and nothing makes much sense anymore. The NHL is starting this one in the afternoon (2 p.m. local time) just in case it goes to overtime, because we’ve got more action in Edmonton later on Friday.
The Canucks might be this summer’s pluckiest team; every time you’re ready to count them out, they turn it around and look like world beaters. Thatcher Demko is the latest young star to sizzle for Vancouver; with 90 saves and just one goal allowed in the last two games, he may have just forced pending free agent Jacob Markstrom out of town. But, that’s an issue for later. Vegas, meanwhile, remains confident that they’re still the better team, despite whiffing on two straight chances to clinch. Thursday was a rare occasion for the team; it was just the 11th time in franchise history — regular or postseason — that they’ve been shut out. “It’s nice that we have this opportunity tomorrow,” Golden Knights forward Max Pacioretty said. “You don’t want to sit around your room in the bubble thinking about what went wrong.”
Question of the day: Who starts in net for Vegas in Game 7?
The greatest drama so far these playoffs came via a tweet from Marc-Andre Fleury‘s agent, implying his client has been stabbed in the back by coach Peter DeBoer. Fleury has been replaced by Robin Lehner as the No. 1 starter these playoffs, though the two maintain they’ve remained good friends. Nonetheless, DeBoer has typically turned to Fleury in the second of back-to-back games. Lehner allowed three goals on Thursday on only 22 shots.
With the season on the line, does the coach go with Fleury, the beloved franchise stalwart who led this team to the Stanley Cup Final just two years ago? Or run it back with Lehner, the trade-deadline acquisition on whom they’ve leaned for most of this tournament? Lehner, for the record, said he “felt pretty good out there” on Thursday, and would be ready to put out his best on Friday; DeBoer, predictably, declined to name his Game 7 starter in the aftermath of Game 6 Thursday night.
According to one venerable tweeter, DeBoer may have already botched the decision by turning back to Lehner for Game 6.
When you are up in a series but lose game 5. If there is any debate about starting the other goalie it should be done in game 6. Because you can always go back to your starter in game 7. Otherwise you are left with an impossible decision #my2cents
— Strombone (@strombone1) September 4, 2020
About last night …
The Flyers had to play without their best forward, Sean Couturier, as well as top-six winger Joel Farabee. And yet, they got an emotional boost when Oskar Lindblom — diagnosed with rare bone cancer in December, finished chemotherapy in July — rejoined the lineup for the first time in 271 days. The Flyers had a hard time sustaining offensive pressure, while the Islanders had plenty more Grade-A looks. But Carter Hart stood tall with 49 saves and Ivan Provorov notched the game-winner in double overtime. The Isles have now missed on two chances to clinch the series. “Frustration level is honestly about 30 seconds and then that’s about it,” New York star Mathew Barzal said. “There’s nothing we can do. Game 6 is over now and we’ve moved on.” Full recap.
The Flyers win in overtime for the second straight game as Ivan Provorov’s goal in double overtime results in a 5-4 victory and a Game 7 showdown with the Islanders.
The Golden Knights had 90 shot attempts, including 48 on net. They just couldn’t get anything past Thatcher Demko, who has played out of his mind in his first two playoff starts, stopping 89 of 90 shots (.989 save percentage). “I feel great, don’t have any complaints,” Demko said afterwards, hinting he may be ready for a Game 7 that starts less than 24 hours after this game was played. But it’s not just the Demko Show for Vancouver. J.T. Miller got back on the board again, Quinn Hughes scored a point in his third straight game, while Bo Horvat (10 goals in this tournament) joins Pavel Bure and Trevor Linden as the only Canucks players to score double-digit goals in one postseason. Vegas felt like they were the better team, just didn’t get the bounces. Full recap.
J.T. Miller, Quinn Hughes and Bo Horvat all net goals in the third period as the Canucks beat the Golden Knights 4-0 to force Game 7.
The 24-year-old followed up his 42-save playoff debut with a 48-save shutout on Thursday; per Sportsnet, he’s the first rookie goalie to win each of his first two career NHL playoff starts when his team was facing elimination since Jacques Plante in 1953.
He may have allowed four goals, but it’s all about how he responded, fighting off a furious Islanders attack with 49 saves. There is no way the Flyers win this game without Hart playing as well as he did.
Double-overtime winner to stave off elimination and force a Game 7. Enough said.
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) September 4, 2020
Quote of the day
“This kid has so much courage. I mean, he played unbelievable too. He hasn’t played since — I’m not even sure. It’s been a long time, it’s been a long battle. And this guy’s heart — you’ve got to see it to believe it.” — Flyers captain Claude Giroux on the return of Oskar Lindblom after 271 days.
Goal of the day
It came in a losing effort, but this short-sider from Mathew Barzal is a beauty. He takes the shot essentially on one leg, and might I remind you he’s also playing with one severely bruised eye?
Mat Barzal gives the Isles the lead with a sweet goal pic.twitter.com/A73vdQtCuN
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) September 4, 2020
Social post of the day
OK, so the Capitals are no longer in the bubble, but I can’t stop watching this video of Alex Ovechkin‘s son, Sergei who is two. I repeat, two. And for everyone wondering, Sergei Ovechkin is eligible for the 2036 draft.
Check out Alex Ovechkin’s son as he flips a puck with ease.